March 10, 2004, 12:00 AM

AOL, Yahoo, EarthLink and Microsoft sue hundreds under CAN-Spam

Four leading Internet service providers coordinated the filing of six lawsuits last night, the first under the federal CAN-Spam Act, against hundreds of alleged spammers.

Taking time out as fierce competitors to battle spam, four leading Internet service providers coordinated the filing of six lawsuits last night, the first under the federal CAN-Spam Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, against hundreds of alleged spammers. "Congress gave us the necessary tools to pursue spammers with stiff penalties, and we in the industry didn`t waste a moment,” said Randall Boe, executive vice president and general counsel of AOL.

The four ISPs have charged defendants with sending a combined total of hundreds of millions of e-mail messages to the ISPs’ e-mail subscribers. Although many of the defendants are named only as “John Does,” the ISPs say their lawsuits are going after some of the kingpins of spam. Yahoo noted that, in suing a group of alleged spammers known collectively as “The Head Operation,” including Head Programming Inc., Gold Disk Canada Inc. and Infinite Technologies Worldwide Inc., it is targeting the source of about 94 million e-mail messages in January alone.

EarthLink said one group of 75 John Doe defendants and other alleged spammers have been responsible for a substantial portion of the incoming spam on EarthLink’s network since Jan. 1. And AOL noted in “AOL v. John Does 1-40” that the defendants’ millions of e-mail spam messages sent from at least last November led to more than a half-million complaints filed by AOL e-mail subscribers.

"We`re holding spammers directly accountable for the relentless infiltration of people`s in-boxes,” said Mike Callahan, senior vice president and general counsel for Yahoo. “We`re acting on behalf of the millions of people who are saying `enough is enough.`”

The four ISPs, which formed an anti-spam alliance last April and have since met regularly to address the spam issue, said the alleged spammers used a variety of methods to deliver spam in violation of CAN-Spam. They noted that much of the spam cited in the lawsuits was routed through open proxies or third-party computers to disguise their point of origin; sent with falsified “from” addresses; and sent without the inclusion of a physical address or unsubscribe option as required by CAN-Spam. The spam covered a broad range of marketing pitches, including get-rich-quick schemes, pornography, mortgage loans and cable descramblers.

The ISPs said they expect the CAN-Spam law and other efforts to have a long-term impact on spam. "With the creation of this anti-spam industry alliance and the implementation of a federal law to litigate effectively against spammers, we are witnessing the impact that this industrywide attack on spam is having,” said Nancy Anderson, deputy general counsel for Microsoft. ”We`ve had the opportunity to share investigative best practices and various legal resources and information to ensure that spammers are going to have an increasingly difficult time continuing their deceptive practices with the full force of this industry coming down on them."

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